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The Russian Intel Story Shows the Price of Trump’s Lost Credibility

Loose Lips Sink Presidencies.

The state of the Trump Presidency has been perpetual turbulence, which seems to be how the principal likes it. The latest vortex is over Mr. Trump’s disclosure of sensitive intel to the Russians—and whatever the particulars of the incident, the danger is that Presidencies can withstand only so much turbulence before they come apart.

The Washington Post reported Monday night that in an Oval Office meeting last week Mr. Trump relayed high-level “code word” classified material obtained from an ally to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Cue another Washington meltdown. The President took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to defend himself, claiming an “absolute right” to disclose “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster put a finer point on it at a Tuesday press conference, though without denying key details. He said Mr. Trump’s disclosure was “wholly appropriate” and didn’t expose intelligence sources and methods.

Presidents sometimes share secrets with overseas leaders—even to adversaries such as the Soviets during the Cold War—if they conclude the benefits of showing what the U.S. knows will aid diplomacy or strategic interests. From media accounts and his tweets, Mr. Trump said something about Islamic State’s laptop bomb threat to airlines. He may well have been trying to convince the envoys of the menace ISIS poses to Russian lives and foreign-policy goals, like the Russian airliner that exploded over Sinai in 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kerry Downs Another Vodka Shot As The Last Of Putin’s Security Detail Passes Out

NOVOSINKOVO, RUSSIA—Staring directly into the drooping eyes of the woozy, flushed henchman sitting across from him in the back room of a dimly lit tavern, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly downed another vodka shot Sunday night as the last of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s security detail passed out beside him. “Nostrovia!” said Kerry as he slammed down the upturned shot glass next to dozens of others…(read more)

 


Russian Flights Over Iraq and Iran Escalate Tension With U.S.

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WASHINGTON —  Russia is using an air corridor over Iraq and Iran to fly military equipment and personnel to a new air hub in Syria, openly defying American efforts to block the shipments and significantly increasing tensions with Washington.

“Since Maliki relinquished the premiership, power and authority in Iraq have become increasingly diffused with various players now exercising unilateral power over the use of force.”

American officials disclosed Sunday that at least seven giant Russian Condor transport planes had taken off from a base in southern Russia during the past week to ferry equipment to Syria, all passing through Iranian and Iraqi airspace.

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“Neutrality is the best Washington can hope for in Baghdad. Iraq is not a dictatorial state like many of the U.S. allies in the Middle East. Iraq is still a fragile state whose leaders are exposed to politics.”

Their destination was an airfield south of Latakia, Syria, which could become the most significant new Russian military foothold in the Middle East in decades, American officials said.

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“In the discourse of Iraqi politics, forcing Abadi to side with the U.S. against Assad is like realigning him with the Sunni axis against the Shia one.”

— Ramzy Mardini, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, a research group in Washington

The Obama administration initially hoped it had hampered the Russian effort to move military equipment and personnel into Syria when Bulgaria, a NATO member, announced it would close its airspace to the flights. But Russia quickly began channeling its flights over Iraq and Iran, which Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Sunday would continue despite American objections.

[Read the full story here, at The New York Times]

“There were military supplies, they are ongoing, and they will continue,” Mr. Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. “They are inevitably accompanied by Russian specialists, who help to adjust the equipment, to train Syrian personnel how to use this weaponry.”

Sergey-Lavrov

“There were military supplies, they are ongoing, and they will continue. They are inevitably accompanied by Russian specialists, who help to adjust the equipment, to train Syrian personnel how to use this weaponry.”

— Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister

Moscow’s military buildup in Syria, where the Kremlin has been supporting President Bashar al-Assad in a four-and-a-half-year civil war, adds a new friction point in its relations with the United States. The actions also lay bare another major policy challenge for the United States: how to encourage Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq, who came to power with the blessing of the United States but is still trying to establish his authority, to block the Russian flights. Read the rest of this entry »


Euphoria in Iran as U.S. Accepts Defeat

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” The Middle East has just become far more dangerous than it was a day ago. And the Obama administration has no one to blame but itself.”

Dov Zakheim writes:

…President Obama says that the deal makes the world “safer and more secure.” But here is how the Iranian Mehr News Agency describes the outcome:

– Iran’s nuclear program that was unjustly introduced as a threat to global security will now be recognized as a field for international cooperation with other countries.

– Iran will be recognized by the U.N. as a country with nuclear technology and entitled to rights of peaceful nuclear program including enrichment and full fuel cycle.

– All economic and financial sanctions against Iran will be removed through a new Security Council resolution.

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“The lifting of restrictions ensures that Iran will be no further from achieving nuclear weapons status than it is today. Nothing has been rolled back. None of the initial Western demands, whether regarding enrichment, the number of centrifuges, the extent of inspections, or the timetable for lifting sanctions have been met.”

– All nuclear facilities in Iran will retain their activities. Contrary to the initial demands of the other side, none of the nuclear sites will be shut down.

– With the new UNSC resolution under article 25, in addition to article 41 on provisions related to removal of past sanctions, the treatment of UN Security Council toward Iran will also undergo a fundamental change.

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“Iran will now have access to the latest technology, to international trade, and, most important, to billions of dollars. Estimates of Tehran’s financial windfall range as high as $150 billion.”

– All nuclear facilities in Iran will retain their activities. Contrary to the initial demands of the other side, none of the nuclear sites will be shut down.

– The policy to prevent Iran’s enrichment activities failed. Iran will continue nuclear enrichment.

– Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will be preserved. No centrifuge will be destroy [sic] and research and development on all advanced centrifuges including IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 will continue.

– Arak heavy water reactor will remain as such. Any demands to return the facility to a light water reactor have been dismissed. The facility will be modernized and enjoy new additions through cooperating with owners of most advanced and secure world technologies.

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“Even if the actual figures are no more than $50 billion, that sum is enough for Iran both to modernize its infrastructure and double, perhaps triple its financial support for terrorist activities, which currently is estimated to cost the Islamic Republic less than ten billions dollars.”

– Iran will enter global markets as a producer of nuclear products especially in the case of “enriched uranium” and “heavy water.” All sanctions and limitations against imports and exports of nuclear material will be annulled.

– All economic and financial sanctions in the fields of banking, oil, gas, petrochemicals, insurance, and transportation as imposed by the EU and the U.S. under the pretext of Iran’s nuclear program will be immediately lifted upon the implementation of the agreement.

“Clearly, from the Iranian perspective, this is one terrific deal.”

– Ban on Iran’s missile activities including ballistic missiles will be limited to missiles designed for nuclear weapons, of which the Islamic Republic has never been and will be after.

– Iran’s arms embargo will be lifted, replaced with some restrictions to be removed in 5 years.

– Ban on purchasing sensitive dual-use items will be lifted and Iran’s needs will be met more easily through Iran and 5+1 joint commission.

– Billions of Iran’s blocked revenues in foreign banks will be unfrozen.

– A total of 800 individuals and legal entities, including the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), will be released from any sanctions.

Clearly, from the Iranian perspective, this is one terrific deal.

What about from the Western perspective? The lifting of restrictions ensures that Iran will be no further from achieving nuclear weapons status than it is today. Nothing has been rolled back. None of the initial Western demands, whether regarding enrichment, the number of centrifuges, the extent of inspections, or the timetable for lifting sanctions have been met. Iran will now have access to the latest technology, to international trade, and, most important, to billions of dollars. Estimates of Tehran’s financial windfall range as high as $150 billion. Even if the actual figures are no more than $50 billion, that sum is enough for Iran both to modernize its infrastructure and double, perhaps triple its financial support for terrorist activities, which currently is estimated to cost the Islamic Republic less than ten billions dollars. The prospects for a peaceful outcome in Syria, or Yemen have diminished markedly. Hezbollah’s fortunes have skyrocketed. And the threat to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province has become far more ominous. Read the rest of this entry »


Diplomats: Iran Announcement Monday

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VIENNA (AP) —  George Jahn and Matthew Lee report: Negotiators at the Iran nuclear talks plan to announce Monday that they’ve reached a historic deal capping nearly a decade of diplomacy that would curb the country’s atomic program in return for sanctions relief, two diplomats told The Associated Press on Sunday.

The envoys said a provisional agreement may be reached even earlier — by late Sunday. But they cautioned that final details of the pact were still being worked out. Once it is complete, a formal, final agreement would be open to review by officials in the capitals of Iran and the six world powers at the talks, they said.

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Senior U.S. and Iranian officials suggested, however, there might not be enough time to reach a deal by the end of Sunday and that the drafting of documents could bleed into Monday.

All of the officials, who are at the talks in Vienna, demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly.

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“We are working hard, but a deal tonight is simply logistically impossible,” the Iranian official said, noting that the agreement will run roughly 100 pages.

The senior U.S. official declined to speculate as to the timing of any agreement or announcement but said “major issues remain to be resolved.”

Despite the caution, the negotiators appeared to be on the cusp of an agreement.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Thursday had threatened to walk away from the negotiations, said Sunday that “a few tough things” remain in the way but added “we’re getting to some real decisions.”

En route to Mass at Vienna’s gothic St. Stephens Cathedral, Kerry said twice he was “hopeful” after a “very good meeting” Saturday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had Muslim services Friday. Read the rest of this entry »


Benny Avni: China, Russia Celebrate the Dawn of the Un-American Century

FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during arrivals for the G-20 summit at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013.   Congress is stepping up pressure on the White House to confront Russia over allegations that it is cheating on a key nuclear arms treaty, a faceoff that could further strain U.S.-Moscow relations and dampen President Barack Obama's hopes to add deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals to his legacy.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Benny Avni writes: Supposedly “isolated” Russia’s bromance with China flourishes. No wonder: Both countries appreciate power politics and scoff at America’s display of global weakness.

President Obama pooh-poohed Moscow ever since his “reset” with Russia crashed and burned. He argued that under President Vladimir Putin Russia is an isolated country on the verge of bankruptcy.

That was then. On Tuesday, after months of snubbing the Kremlin, Secretary of State John Kerry came hat in hand to Sochi, Russia, where he tried to schmooze Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

The Kremlin signaled its disdain for Washington by declining to confirm Kerry’s meeting with Putin until the last minute. Afterward, Kerry sheepishly said the sides weren’t seeking a “major breakthrough.”

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While this haphazard attempt at diplomacy took place, the Russian and Chinese navies exercised together for the first time in the eastern Mediterranean — a symbol of a fast-gelling alliance between two growing military powers.

Beijing just invested $6 billion in a Russian rail project. Dozens of trade and other bilateral agreements address mutual interests in Central Asia.

[Read the full text here, at New York Post]

And to address Beijing’s never-satiated hunger for energy sources and Moscow’s need for cash, Russia just signed a pact to build a lucrative natural-gas pipeline to China. Annual trade between the two countries is estimated at $100 billion.

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Meanwhile, as cyber threats to America grow, including, prominently, from Chinese and Russian hackers, the two countries just signed a cyber non-aggression pact, raising fears about the future of Internet freedom.

And in the world of global diplomacy (Obama’s supposedly strong suit), Beijing and Moscow unite on United Nations Security Council votes that could harm them or their allies, blocking and vetoing American and other Western resolution proposals on Syria, Ukraine and, of course, anything to do with Beijing land grabs in the East and South China Seas.

Then there’s Kerry. Read the rest of this entry »


Russia Says Mohammed Cartoon Publication Illegal: ‘One Cannot Laugh at the Feelings of the Faithful’

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Russia is an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian country, but is also home to a sizeable Muslim minority

Russia’s media watchdog on Friday warned publications that printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed was against the country’s law and ethical norms following the Charlie Hebdo attack in France.

“The publication in Russian media of such caricatures go against ethical and moral norms worked out over centuries.”

“The publication in Russian media of such caricatures go against ethical and moral norms worked out over centuries,” said the media and communications watchdog Roskomnadzor.

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“Disseminating caricatures on religious themes in the media can be considered insulting or humiliating to the representatives of religious confessions and groups, and qualified as inciting ethnic and religious hatred.”

— Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media and communications watchdog

The publication would also violate the Russian media and anti-extremism laws, the watchdog said, adding that it was asking Russian media to “refrain from publishing caricatures that can be seen as a violation”.

The watchdog published the statement as a response to the ongoing debate on the “legality of publishing caricatures depicting religious objects of worship which affect feelings of religious people.”censorship2

“It further said Charlie Hebdo’s post-attack issue featuring a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the front page was an ‘unacceptable response’ to the shooting, because one ‘cannot laugh at the feelings of the faithful’.”

Many newspapers and magazines around the world reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris office was attacked by Islamist gunmen on January 7, leading to the deaths of 12 people.

Although Russia’s leadership extended its condolences to France, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov participated in the unity march staged at the weekend, pro-Kremlin commentators and Muslims accused the cartoonists of provoking the attack. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Ponnuru: Remember Hillary’s Russian ‘Reset’ Policy? Americans Will It Hold Against Her

National Review Online


TOOTHLESS: U.S.-Russia deal says nothing about use of force

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GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.S.-Russian deal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal contains nothing about the potential use of force if Syria fails to comply, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.    Read the rest of this entry »